Feria Thursday 9th June 2022 10.00am
Parish Mass 12th June 2022 9.30am
Tuesdays from 10.00am everyone welcome
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
and lighten with celestial fire
Thou the anointing Spirit art
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
You may recognise this opening verse of a beautiful, ancient hymn which may be sung at Pentecost or at any occasion when the Holy Spirit is especially invoked. These might include Confirmation and Ordination, but also the Coronation of kings and queens. A couple of days ago I watched some footage of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, from 1953, more than a decade before I was born. It was a moving service, especially at the point of the anointing, when that hymn was sung, originally known by its Latin title Veni, Creator Spiritus. It continues:
Thy blessed unction from above
Is comfort, light and fire of love
Enable with perpetual light
The dullness of our blinded sight.
The hymn was sung as our Queen prepared herself for her anointing, and all those present prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit:
Anoint and cheer our soilèd face
With the abundance of Thy grace
Keep far our foes, give peace at home
Where Thou art guide no ill can come.
I saw how the anointing took place away from the cameras, as a golden canopy was placed over the monarch’s head. It was a deeply personal moment and an encounter with the Holy Spirit, without whose aid there would be nothing except limited human strength.
I imagine that Queen Elizabeth has never forgotten that moment all those years ago. It is likely to have served as a source of strength for all the events she has lived through and all the times - good and bad - that have affected our nation over those many years. There are certain special moments that can inspire us for a lifetime. It is deeply personal, but the grace that is given is not just for us alone. It is given so that we might make a difference in the world, just as our Queen has touched so many people’s lives over those 70 years.
As a priest, I have never forgotten the laying-on of hands and anointing, nor have I forgotten the sense of smallness that contrasted with the weight of the calling. I’m sure it is the same for any other priest. If that is how that moment of anointing felt for me, then how much more so for our Queen. After all, there are far more priests than there are kings and queens. It is a lonely vocation indeed and that moment of anointing with the Holy Spirit would be a reminder that there is a far greater power at work here – one that sustains and inspires and strengthens – a strength that could only come from God.
I wonder how those first apostles must have felt when they were in one room on that first Pentecost. There they heard what sounded like a mighty wind from heaven and become aware of a warmth and light like tongues of flame resting upon each of them. They could really only describe this experience of the Holy Spirit in terms of its effects. These apparently ordinary men were making themselves understood to complete strangers of different languages. The devout men were amazed, not least because they couldn’t get their heads around how these country bumpkins from Galilee were able to do the things that they themselves had never achieved. They thought they were under the influence of alcohol, but it was in fact a different kind of spirit that was empowering them. Anyone who has felt themselves unequal to their calling can look to this as a reminder that you do not have to be born special. It is the Holy Spirit that enables ordinary people to do the extraordinary.
Before Jesus was crucified, he spoke of the promise of the Paraclete – the one who is sent to be alongside us. The word “Paraclete” is often translated as “Advocate”, as we see in our gospel passage from St John. An advocate is someone who speaks up for us, or who pleads on our behalf. It is also connected with courts of law, where a lawyer – an advocate – speaks on behalf of someone else. I have seen the advice given to people who decide to represent themselves in a court of law: “Don’t do it!” There are people who know what to say and how to say it – to speak the words that we cannot find ourselves.
Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses in his name. They were not to be afraid about what to say when the time came. In St Luke’s gospel, Chapter 12, verse 12, Jesus says to them: “… the Holy Spirit will teach you at the hour what you ought to say.” They went on to amaze themselves by going out into the world and proclaiming the word of life, bringing a welcome message of forgiveness and opening up spaces in people’s lives where the Creator Spirit might flood in. Jesus had promised them that when he was no longer physically there to tell them what to do and how to do it, he would be with them in a new way. They would perform even greater works in the power of the Spirit. They were not disappointed.
You don’t have to be a king or queen or a priest to be anointed with Holy Chrism and with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Most of us are too young to remember our baptism, but perhaps we can remember Confirmation. Maybe we can cast our minds back to that awesome moment when we are told: “God has called you by name and made you his own. Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.”
Jesus has told his disciples, and he tells us, that the Holy Spirit would remind us of all that he has taught us. The Holy Spirit overcomes our fear, removes the divisions that keep us apart and puts a new heart within us. We are still limited by our own weakness and we each have our own particular gifts and calling. But through all of this, the Holy Spirit that we celebrate at Pentecost is our inspiration, our strength and our guiding light. Through that gift we become witnesses and apostles to reflect to the world the presence of Christ among us. We and others then begin to glimpse possibilities for our humanity and for our world that we would never have dreamed possible.
Queen Elizabeth makes no secret of her trust in God and of the faith that continues to inspire her after all these years. The anointing and the invocation of the Holy Spirit at her Coronation continue to give the strength and endurance to live out this singular vocation. Whatever our own particular gifts and calling may be, today is a day on which we thank and praise God for giving us the gift of his Holy Spirit, to dwell with us and to show us the way. In the final verse of that wonderful hymn:
Teach us to know the Father, Son
And Thee of both to be but one,
That through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song:
Praise to Thy eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.